- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2010

Democrats scrambled Monday to handle the fallout from ethics charges against Rep. Charles B. Rangel and tried to head off a politically costly public hearing, but Republicans said they wanted to see the ethics committee process play out.

The congressman from New York has become a divisive figure for Democrats after the House ethics committee said it would bring charges against him. Some Democrats say they are still happy to stand with him, others are ditching his campaign donations, and the White House seems uncertain how to respond.

Congressional sources said Democrats are working to try to head off what could be politically costly hearings on the charges against Mr. Rangel, which will be made public on Thursday. But Mr. Rangel has resisted, and it’s unclear what shape a deal would take, given that the congressman likely would have to say he violated the rules and possibly even resign — something he’s steadfastly protested.

Asked about whether they’d embrace a deal, Republicans signaled they’d prefer to let the process play out in the ethics committee.

“The ethics committee has taken action and determined that the allegations are of such serious magnitude that a public hearing in a public venue is appropriate. I want to defer to the bipartisan ethics committee’s judgment,” said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana. “The standard for members of Congress is to be above the appearance of impropriety.”

Mr. Rangel, speaking with reporters in New York, said the House ethics committee’s announcement about the charges against him on Thursday will be like lancing “a boil that’s been building up for close to two years.” But he gave no sign he will give in to Democratic leaders’ back-room pleas that he accept a face-saving deal.

“This is a very traumatic experience for me and for my family and for my constituents,” Mr. Rangel said. “I can only hope that all the facts come out before my primary and before my general election.”

The House ethics committee last week said it has completed an investigation into allegations against Mr. Rangel and said they are serious enough to bring charges, which will be announced Thursday when the committee meets to decide how to proceed.

In 2008, seeking to clear his name, Mr. Rangel asked the ethics committee to look into allegations he accepted rent-stabilized apartments in New York City, misused his office to fundraise for a college program named after him, and failed to pay taxes on property in the Dominican Republic.

He already has been admonished by the ethics committee for taking a trip paid for by a corporation, in violation of House rules. The committee said Mr. Rangel’s staff knew the trip was funded improperly, but said there is no evidence Mr. Rangel knew that.

Still, in the aftermath, Democrats forced Mr. Rangel to relinquish the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful posts in Congress.

Mr. Pence said he wants to see the political rhetoric over Mr. Rangel toned down in Congress now that the ethics committee is pursuing charges, but Republican campaign operations are moving in the opposite direction. They are mounting a campaign to make Democrats in critical congressional races take a position for or against Mr. Rangel.

Since Mr. Rangel’s troubles began, Democratic candidates have returned or donated to charities $574,000 that Mr. Rangel had doled out in political contributions, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The NRCC listed nearly 50 House members who it said have not returned the money. Topping the list is Rep. Dan Maffei, a New York Democrat who worked for Mr. Rangel before winning election in his own right. The NRCC said Mr. Maffei has taken $82,021 in campaign contributions from Mr. Rangel during his political career.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Maffei said that “there is no intention at this time to return or donate the money.”

Other New York Democrats said they also stand behind Mr. Rangel. Gov. David A. Paterson told reporters Monday that he backs Mr. Rangel “100 percent.”

But some have taken a hands-off approach. New York papers reported that Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, was distancing himself from Mr. Rangel over the weekend, and GoErie.com reported Monday that Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, New York Democrat, was donating $14,000 of her campaign money to charities to account for the $14,000 that Mr. Rangel gave her campaign.

House Democratic leaders said they have not spoken with Mr. Rangel about the charge and do not know what he will do.

At the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs ducked questions about the ethics committee’s announcement Thursday, saying he instead has been preoccupied with Sunday’s release of leaked classified documents on the war in Afghanistan.

“I’m happy to find some stuff on this, but I don’t have anything for you,” he told a reporter.

The White House has been hands-off since February, when the ethics committee investigation was made public. At the time, Mr. Gibbs pointedly said that President Obama has been a leader on ethics reforms and that “rules are put in place for a reason and that those rules can and must apply to each and every person.”

Bud Jackson, a Democratic strategist, said Democrats can afford to take a wait-and-see approach before criticizing their colleague.

“Democrats need to adopt the line of ‘The accusations sound serious, but it’s important to let the system sort this out before drawing any conclusion,’” Mr. Jackson said. “There’s no good political reason to support Rangel, but there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the final outcome — and to then make a statement.”

Mr. Jackson said a deal between the ethics committee and Mr. Rangel is the best way to contain the damage.

“If he works out a deal, the issue isn’t erased, but the damage is limited, and it won’t linger as a scandal cloud from now through the November election,” he said.

Mr. Rangel is in his 20th term and is running for a 21st.

His district is considered solidly Democratic, but he does face challengers in the primary, slated for Sept. 14. That complicates matters, since the House is scheduled to adjourn for a summer break at the end of this week and return Sept. 13.

Mr. Rangel said he wants to put the matter to rest before the primary and that he is “confident that I’m going to win re-election.”



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